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Monday Aug 7, 2023

England leaders face questions from the press as fans reflect on squad announcement

Steve Borthwick announced his 33-man England squad earlier today before he and his coaches took to the press room to answer questions surrounding the big omissions. In front of a packed room, the coaching team justified their selections to a room full of journalists.

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The front row itself is very reminiscent of the side that took England to the World Cup final in 2019, with the only omissions of Jack Singleton, Mako Vunipola and Luke Cowan Dickie being noticeable. Instead, it’s the ever-reliable Will Stuart gaining his place in with the heavy lads after a particularly impressive performance in an otherwise lacklustre England loss against Wales at the weekend.

Young hooker Theo Dan finds himself on the journey of a lifetime as he is likely to compete with fellow hooker Jack Walker and Jamie George for a place in the side.

Ollie Chessum makes the squad just five months after breaking his ankle – creating a very competitive second-row selection headache for Borthwick with Courtney Lawes, Maro Itoje, David Ribbans, and George Martin all vying for a starting position. Jonny Hill is a big exclusion from the squad, with the 6 ft 7 in lock falling out of favour since the loss of his mullet…and the change in head coach, of course.

The back row see’s a host of changes from four years ago, however, with only Tom Curry and big Billy Vunipola remaining in a side that achieved so much.

The number nine position was not up for debate, with the three scrum halves confirmed well prior to the selection, as veteran scrum half Danny Care retains his spot alongside record cap holder Ben Youngs and young Leicester Tigers player Jack van Poortvliet.

Care, having finally made his second World Cup at age 36 said “The answer was yes straight away” when Borthwick rang him to let him know he was due on the plane, before adding that “Steve wants me to enjoy it and be me“, before joking that he may still be available for selection when he’s 40.

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Also talking to the press was captain Owen Farrell as he gave an insight into the camp, saying he’s “never spent so much time with everyone“, having shared a room with the now excluded Henry Slade. Farrell is one of the three selected fly halves for the tournament, with Marcus Smith and George Ford also selected as options at ten.

Ollie Lawrence has been rewarded with a slot in the team thanks to his terrific form since joining Bath. Speaking to Rugbydump reporter Jack Tunney during the press conference, Lawrence detailed his dramatic return to form. The Bath centre put it down to “knowing that rugby could be taken away from you at any point” before adding that his real motivation was being fortunate to “pick up a gig pretty sharpish” after the collapse of Worcester.

Joining him in competition for the centre positions is Harlequins Joe Marchant and the 2019 World Cup semi final try scorer, Manu Tuilagi.

The noticeable exclusion in the midfield is Henry Slade, as the experienced Exeter centre was released in exchange for more cover on the wings. Regarding the Slade shaped hole, Borthwick said “We have a lot of talented players to select from, so by that nature quality players miss out on the 33“, before indictating that “positional flexibility” was the reason for his exclusion. The head coach reinforced that all players not selected could still have the opportunity to head to the World Cup should injuries arise.

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The back three choice was always going to be a contentious decision, with many fans disagreeing on the type of winger that England need. The choice has been made clear by Borthwick as he drops Cokanasiga in favour of the smaller and slighter Max Malins and Henry Arundell, alongside Anthony Watson, utility back Elliot Daly, and of course…Freddie Steward.

The fan response has been mixed on this big day for England rugby, with some berating others for being negative, whilst others lead with the ‘boring’ tag to describe the selection.

One fan comment that appeared to resonate with many around the country, led: “I’m sorry but this team, the coaching, everything has just become so boring. The players don’t show the passion there once was, it’s almost as if the heart has been ripped out! There’s no pride in the jersey, no pride running out and playing till you’re knackered, no pride in singing the anthem. It’s just become so mundane, lackluster and boring. Eddie Jones sucked the life out of the team, and Borthwick has just made it worse. Whoever decided Borthwick was the perfect man to transform England was foolish. You should’ve brought in Scott Robertson, O’Gara and/or Shaun Edwards. They ALL wanted to coach England, but none of them received an offer from the RFU. No wonder the sport is dying in the UK, it’s a shambles. It’s a sad day for me, and thousands of other people that watching England has become a chore, instead of an enjoyable few hours. I know I don’t have to watch, but it shouldn’t be like that.”

Whilst another stuck up for Borthwick and his side, sticking by their rugby knowledge: “The amount of negativity from “fans” is a disgrace. Just because
– your favourite player from your club didn’t make it,
– X player knocked a ball on in a game,
– you think someone should run from their own 22 instead of kicking it etc etc
There is no need to be calling for coaches heads. What a joke.
Accept that the coaches have access to every stat imaginable, have been with the players every day for 6 weeks and will forget more about rugby than you will ever know.”

England are due to welcome Wales to Twickenham on Saturday with what many are expecting to be a full strength England side. Time will tell as to whether the England Head Coach has got this right.

England squad

Forwards: Ollie Chessum (Leicester), Dan Cole (Leicester), Tom Curry (Sale), Theo Dan (Saracens), Ben Earl (Saracens), Ellis Genge (Bristol), Jamie George (Saracens), Maro Itoje (Saracens), Courtney Lawes (Northampton), Lewis Ludlam (Northampton), Joe Marler (Harlequins), George Martin (Leicester), David Ribbans (Toulon), Bevan Rodd (Sale), Kyle Sinckler (Bristol), Will Stuart (Bath), Billy Vunipola (Saracens), Jack Walker (Harlequins), Jack Willis (Toulouse).

Backs: Henry Arundell (Racing 92), Danny Care (Harlequins), Elliot Daly (Saracens), Owen Farrell (Saracens), George Ford (Sale), Ollie Lawrence (Bath), Max Malins (Bristol), Joe Marchant (Stade Francais), Marcus Smith (Harlequins), Freddie Steward (Leicester), Manu Tuilagi (Sale), Jack van Poortvliet (Leicester), Anthony Watson (unattached), Ben Youngs (Leicester).

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